Forty Cannes film festivals viewed through one photographer’s lens

Harrison Ford, Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz, Morgan Freeman: Gaillard has snapped them all on the French Riviera

Liam James
Sunday 28 May 2023 09:30 BST

When Eric Gaillard first went to photograph the Cannes Film Festival in 1981, it was a smaller, more intimate affair – the kind of place where you could see the greats from Hollywood’s Golden Age like Lauren Bacall or Ava Gardner wandering alone on the esplanade or having fun on the beach without bodyguards.

Returning for his 40th time, Gaillard finds a different beast – larger, more multicultural, with more restrictions on where photographers can stand to try and get that viral snap or capture that moment when a movie star gets caught off-guard sharing an intimate smile, doing a goofy pose, or having a bad hair day.

Kristen Stewart removes her heels on the red carpet at the 71st Cannes on 14 May 2018 (Reuters)
Woody Harrelson is held by director Michael Cimino (left) and actors Alexandra Tydings and Jon Seda as they arrive for the screening of their film ‘Sunchaser’ at the 49th Cannes on 18 May 1996 (Reuters)
Diego Maradona plays with a ball while promoting the film ‘Maradona by Kusturica’ at the 61st Cannes on 20 May 2008 (Reuters)
Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt arrive for the screening of Wolfgang Petersen’s ‘Troy’ at the 57th Cannes on 13 May 2004 (Reuters)
Harrison Ford poses with his honorary Palme d'Or Award at the 76th Cannes on 19 May 2023 (Reuters)

The 76th edition of the festival, taking place from 16 May to 27 May, has seen Cannes’ usual population triple to 230,000 people to watch films, rub shoulders with celebrities and – in some cases – compete for the coveted Palme d’Or.

Gaillard, who is retiring after this festival, was there for Reuters, snapping Michael Douglas pointing at the camera with a cheeky grin and a besuited Harrison Ford receiving an honorary Palme d’Or.

Michael Douglas poses before being awarded with an honorary Palme d'Or prize during the opening ceremony of the 76th Cannes on 16 May 2023 (Reuters)
Johnny Depp waves to end a photo call for director Jim Jarmusch’s film ‘Dead Man’ at the 48th Cannes on 27 May 1995 (Reuters)
People enjoy a beach front cinema screening at the 74th Cannes on 10 July 2021 (Reuters)
Morgan Freeman poses as he arrives on the red carpet for Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s film ‘Sin City’ at the 58th Cannes on 18 May 2005 (Reuters)
Director Emmanuelle Bercot poses during a photocall for the film ‘La Tete Haute’ out of competition before the opening of the 68th Cannes on 13 May 2015 (Reuters)

He was there in 1997 when Michael Jackson was in attendance, in 2008 when Diego Maradona showed off his football tricks, and in 2018 when Kristen Stewart kicked off her heels on the red carpet.

Photographers surround Michael Jackson as he arrives for the midnight screening of his movie short ‘Ghosts’ at the 50th Cannes on 8 May 1997 (Reuters)
Elizabeth Taylor pins a red ribbon on Sylvester Stallone's tuxedo during the Cinema for Aids evening at the 46th Cannes on 20 May 1993 (Reuters)
Quentin Tarantino laughs with Uma Thurman as they promote their film ‘Kill Bill Vol 2’ at the 57th Cannes on 16 May 2004 (Reuters)
Pierce Brosnan poses as he promotes the James Bond film ‘Die Another Day’ at the 55th Cannes on 18 May 2002 (Reuters)
Nicole Kidman signs autographs while promoting the film ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ at the 70th Cannes on 22 May 2017 (Reuters)

A shot from the 48th edition of the festival in 1995 shows a disarmingly young Johnny Depp, while a black-and-white photo from 1987 depicts a tanned, bejewelled Liz Taylor with one-time flame George Hamilton.

Actor Penelope Cruz waves as she leaves the screening of Pedro Almodovar's film ‘Volver’ at the 59th Cannes on 19 May 2006 (Reuters)
Elizabeth Taylor and George Hamilton arrive at the 40th Cannes on 13 May 1987 (Reuters)
Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a video address at the 75th Cannes on 17 May 2022 (Reuters)
Christopher Lambert looks surprised as Emmanuelle Seigner (left) and Stefania Rocca kiss him on the cheek during a photo call for Italian director Gabriele Salvatore's film ‘Nirvana’ at the the 50th Cannes on 13 May 1997 (Reuters)
Workers set up a giant canvas of the official poster of the 67th Cannes, featuring late actor Marcello Mastroianni on the Festival Palace on 12 May 2014 (Reuters)

More recent photos show cinemagoers wearing masks (the festival was cancelled in 2020 because of the Covid pandemic but came back the following year with restrictions), increasing numbers of women among the phalanxes of photographers, and attendees using phones to create their own social media posts.

However, the essential glamour and fascination of the occasion has not changed – for the stars, or for the journalists. Cannes is, says Gaillard, “an incredible experience.”

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